The more you know about a film in advance, the more it ruins the film. This was a lesson I learned after attending my first film festival. Going in to a film blind (not literally), with a minimum of hype, expectation and prejudice is the absolute best way to watch a movie. Want to know what happens when you watch way too many trailers and get yourself so excited you could shit yourself?
That isn’t to say a tiny bit of hype won’t nudge you in the right direction. Last Saturday, while finishing up a day’s work, I overheard the panel on Radio 4’s Saturday Review talk about a film called Blue Ruin. I wasn’t paying much attention, but from what I heard I liked the sound of it. It was like a revenge film, they said. But not that kind of revenge film. Or, at least, that was the gist of what I caught.
Now, if I tell you Blue Ruin is a revenge film, I know already what you’re thinking of. The revenge movie in your head stars one of the following:
- Jason Statham
- Denzel Washington
- Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
And it features:
- A scene in which a car flips over while exploding.
- A corrupt FBI/DEA agent played by Eric Roberts or Don Johnson.
- A European actor lauded for their role in an arthouse flick as the main villain.
Let me start by telling you that Blue Ruin is not that kind of movie. When we first meet protagonist Dwight (Macon Blair), he’s living in a rusting Oldsmobile (the titular “blue ruin”) on a beach, with long, straggly hair and a beard that may or may not house an entire family of sparrows. Actually, scratch that, when we first meet him he has broken in to a complete stranger’s house so he can use their bath while they’re out. Dwight is, in short, a loser, a hobo, a bum.
And no… He’s not your unconvincing-false-beard-and-grime kind of hobo. Dwight genuinely looks as if he has been sleeping rough for a decade. Saying barely five words, if that, in the film’s opening 10 minutes, he has the look of a very haunted man; the reason for which becomes clear when he’s taken in to a police station by a tender, sympathetic officer, and told that the man who murdered his parents is about to be released from prison.
What follows is, as already mentioned, a revenge film, but one quite unlike anything you’ve seen before. If it reminded me of anything, it was of Dead Man’s Shoes, with its mixture of suddenly, clumsy and gruesome violence and its vein of very black humour. That said, whereas Paddy Considine’s character in that film is a latter day Man With No Name, skilled in the art of one-man warfare, Dwight is inexperienced and bumbling.
Writer-director Jeremy Saulnier has assembled a top notch cast for what is only his second feature film. Blair is incredible as Dwight, holding your attention while saying so very little, and he’s given great support by Devin Ratray (aka Buzz from Home Alone) as Dwight’s gun-savvy friend Ben and Kevin Kolack as Teddy Cleland – one of the limo-owning crime clan Dwight finds himself up against.
If the cast sound unfamiliar, that’s because there’s a good chance their will be. Ratray aside (and I’d be surprised if you recognised him), I wasn’t familiar with any of the main cast, and if anything this only drew me in to the film even further. From the word go I was gripped, and some scenes (one word: crossbow) had me almost literally on the edge of my seat and watching the film through my fingers.
Besides being suspenseful, occasionally very funny and in places wince-inducingly painful to watch, Blue Ruin’s chief success lies in its protagonist. Dwight is both flawed (you can’t help but wish he’d chosen another path) and sympathetic (you can appreciate why he chose this one). His stumbling into a murky, backwoods criminal underworld feels almost accidental, even if it’s intentional, reminding me of Breaking Bad’s Walter White, and his first tentative steps into the meth business.
What’s even more amazing about Blue Ruin is that it was funded through Kickstarter, and a great example of how that particular funding model can work, even if the chances of indie films enjoying big screen success are still relatively small. At least, it would seem, there is some hope for interesting, intelligent movies to survive in a big-screen world of sequels, prequels, remakes and reboots.